The French are different from you and me. When Leila Slimani’s Chanson Douce — an exquisitely crafted portrait of creeping madness and child murder set in contemporary Paris — first landed in France in 2016, her slim novel earned record sales, rapturous praise, and the prestigious Prix Goncourt literary prize. She was even named to a top cultural-emissary post by President Macron.
Published in English as The Perfect Nanny, Chanson failed to fully ignite American readers, and Adèle is hardly an easier bet: The story, about a chic Parisian wife and mother overwhelmed by her compulsive sexual urges, is too strange, too explicit, too European. Here is Adèle in bars and bistros and hospital elevators, picking up men indiscriminately; it’s only with the release of anonymous sex that “her anxieties dissolve. Her sensations return. Her soul is lighter, her head an empty space.” But desire quickly turns into disdain, indifference, disgust. Slimani observes it all with a coolness that’s almost clinical, even as the feverish spark of obsession licks at the corner of nearly every page. Because Adèle’s appetites, of course, can’t really be sated — they’re as vast and shattering as this fierce, uncanny thunderbolt of a book. A-
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